An author who has spent most of his career writing about American history should not let the two hundred and thirty-second anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence go by without comment. So, happy Fourth of July to all my readers.
I don't spend a lot of time analyzing the themes in my work. I'm too busy worrying about character development, plot dynamics, and the way that sentences fit together. And that's as it should be. But when I look back at the my books - eight now, with a ninth sometime next year - I can see what motivates me in writing them: By bringing history to life, by showing readers the way in which American have confronted their problems in the past, I can offer a lesson and a bit of inspiration. If our American forerunners could confront and overcome the challenges that faced them, we can face and survive whatever is coming at us. While the tasks that history sets for us might not be easy, we've always been able to endure and usually to thrive.
Sometimes we've done it through acts of courage, sometimes in moments of brilliant inspiration, but often, American success has been the product of brains, ingenuity, and simple hard work. Hence the title of this post. It's a line of dialogue that I put into the mouth of a character early in The Lost Constitution, and I liked it so much that I turned it into an echoing device that resonates through the whole book. Considering the number of letters I've gotten about it, that line has resonated with a lot of readers, too.
But back for a moment to acts of courage. Those men in Philadelphia pledged their lives and "sacred honor" to the cause. By signing the Declaration, they were commiting an act of treason. So they had to cooperate, despite their differences, because, as Ben Franklin said, "If we do not hang together,we will most certainly hang separately."
We face plenty of issues that divide us today. For example, even after Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion in the Second Amendment case (a decision that I agree with, and one that I read closely, since The Lost Constitution follows a ficitonal attempt to repeal the amendment), I'm still arguing with friends about it. And now we're living through a long presidential campaign in which the differences between the candiates will grow ever wider in the months ahead (on taxes, on deficit reduction, on energy policy, on the war in Iraq). Presidential scholar David Gergen has warned that the next president, no matter who he is, will face the most serious set of challenges "since FDR took office in 1933."
As we confront these challenges, we should remember the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin in Philladelphia in 1776. Then we should go to work and solve our problems.